Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant plays the Minnesota Timberwolves three times in January, giving him three opportunities to meet up with Kevin Garnett, one of Durant's idols when he was growing up in the Washington, D.C. area.
Durant has often spoke about how he looked up to Garnett as a kid and tried to pattern some of his game after the revolutionary power forward who made the jump straight from high school to the pros in 1995.
Now at the ripe old age of 27, Durant is becoming one of those players that a new generation of NBA players grew up aspiring to be. Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Timberwolves, once interviewed Durant as a teenager in high school in New Jersey.
''I've got a few guys I've been on since they were younger and they're starting to get to college now and I look at their date of birth and it's `98, `97,'' Durant said this week, shaking his head. ''I'm like holy (cow), I'm almost 10 years older than these guys.''
It wasn't that long ago that Durant and Russell Westbrook were the new kids on the block and appeared to be positioning the Thunder as the successor to San Antonio in the Western Conference. But injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and an ill-fated trade of James Harden, have prevented the Thunder from a return trip to the NBA Finals after their first appearance in 2012.
Durant has returned with a vengeance this season, averaging 26.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 51.7 percent from the field, 40.4 percent on 3-pointers and 89.5 percent on free throws. The Thunder are 30-12 and seeded third in the West, and Durant thinks he has so much more left to give.
''I'm getting older but at the same time I feel like I'm still young, I'm still learning, I'm still trying to figure out who I am as a basketball player,'' Durant said. ''And that's the great part about it. I think that's what I learned from guys like KG. He's always striving to be better. This may be his last few years, but he's not packing it in. That's what I can learn.''
The Phoenix Suns have been a mess all season, and they may have reached rock bottom on a three-game trip last week. A 19-point loss at Indiana and a 14-point loss at Boston preceded a 30-point drubbing in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves had lost 13 of their previous 14 games and nine in a row. The skid dropped the Suns (13-29) into a tie with the Wolves for the fourth-worst record in the NBA and is the worst record at the halfway point for the Suns since their inaugural season in 1968-69.
''Effort should never be called into question,'' guard Brandon Knight said. ''For myself and the rest of the guys and our younger guys, everybody has to do a better job of just making sure we're ready to play every game.''
Things to watch this week:
MLK DAY: Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday, a day the NBA has always embraced and celebrated. Ten games are scheduled, including an NBA Finals rematch with the Warriors visiting Cleveland and a night cap featuring the Rockets at the Clippers.
PARKER IS BACK: Spurs point guard Tony Parker wasn't himself last year due in large part to a hamstring injury, and the Spurs were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in part because of that. Gregg Popovich says he is running the team as well as he ever has. And the Spurs (36-6) suddenly are just a half-game behind Golden State in the West.
SURGING SIXERS: The team that started the season 0-18 and 1-30 has won four times is 4-7 in its last 11 games. Jerry Colangelo for executive of the year!
GOBERT'S RETURN: The Utah Jazz were 11th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (99.8) with Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense for the first month. In the 18 games he missed, they dropped to 23rd. Since the Stifle Tower's return, they are giving up 98.1, sixth in the league.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Jimmy Butler, Bulls: 53 points, 10 rebounds six assists in 49 minutes against the Sixers. The Bulls needed almost every one of those points to squeak out a four-point win against suddenly feisty Philly.
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